Walk This Way if You Want to Reduce Stubborn Body Fat, Say Experts
Walking isn't always seen as a workout that gets your heart rate up, blasts fat, and burns calories. But if you're looking to get lean and trim, you should really give walking another chance.
"Walking can help anyone trying to lose weight and get lean, and the best part of walking is that it doesn't require equipment, is accessible to most people, and is low impact," says Steve Stonehouse, NASM-CPT, USATF certified run coach, and director of education for STRIDE.
In fact, "walking is a form of cardio that can help you burn extra calories and maintain your muscle mass, and given that muscle burns more calories compared to fat, that's incredibly beneficial for weight loss," he says.
According to Stonehouse, belly fat is typically the trickiest weight to lose. Belly fat, also known as "visceral" fat, is considered harmful to health in excess. Per Harvard Health, excessive visceral fat can contribute to inflammation and produce proteins that, when activated, can raise blood pressure and constrict blood vessels. Visceral fat also releases free fatty acids, which affects cholesterol production. Basically, extra visceral fat can be bad for your heart health.
Luckily walking, like other forms of moderate- to high-intensity exercises, can help fight belly fat. In fact, a 2014 study in the journal Physical Activity and Nutrition found that walking three days a week for 12 weeks was effective at burning belly fat, especially for older women.
Still: "It's important to recognize though that you can't necessarily target belly fat with walking alone, but rather as you're burning fat and getting leaner and more defined overall, you'll likely see reductions in your belly fat as well," says Stonehouse.
That said, there are a few ways to make your walk more challenging and geared towards blasting belly fat as best as possible. Incorporate them into your daily walks and you should start to see improvements in overall weight loss and fat reduction, as well as in your belly region. And for more intel on getting lean, check out: These Walking Workouts Will Help You Get Lean, Says Trainer.
Increase your pace with interval training
If you want to burn more calories and work your core and abdominal muscles better, speed things up. "You need to ramp up your walking pace to truly see the benefits translated into your weight loss, as increased speed helps you burn stored body fat, which promotes weight loss," Stonehouse says.
To get more fat-burning benefits, consider adding interval training to your walks. "By varying the speed of your walk, especially adding in some faster pace interval work, you will raise your heart rate and increase your caloric expenditure, helping you lose more weight over time," Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN, an exercise physiologist and author of The Micro-Workout Plan: Get the Body You Want Without the Gym in 15 Minutes or Less a Day, previously told ETNT.
"Begin at a normal pace for three to five minutes, then go to a brisk pace for two minutes and repeat," suggests Stonehouse, as a good place to start.
Read more: One Secret Side Effect of Walking Faster, Says Science.
Add some weights
You can also increase the intensity of your walk by carrying weights to add resistance. This will make the walk more challenging, increase heart rate, and strengthen and tone the body all around, including the belly (especially if you engage your core throughout the walk).
"Whether it's wearing ankle weights, a weighted vest, or carrying light dumbbells, the added weight will increase your heart rate and increase resistance, further engaging your muscle to help you get lean," Stonehouse explains.
If you're new to weight training, it's best to start out light with five to 10 pound dumbbells in hand or a light pound amount for a vest. You can even carry a backpack that's a bit heavy to add sufficient resistance.
Challenge yourself as your strength builds by going longer distances with the same amount of weight, interval training with weights, or adding more weight. And for more walking tips, be sure to read Secret Tricks for Walking for Exercise, According to Walking Specialists.
Go further distances
"The further you go on your walk, and the longer you go, you'll inherently burn more calories doing so," Stonehouse says. It can be difficult to step on a treadmill at the gym and walk in one place for 30-minutes or more—we get it. So, head outdoors and go for a walk in nature to get some fresh air and a more aesthetically pleasing environment.
Or, you can remain on the treadmill, but break it up by introducing other activities mid-way through the workout to give your body a break from the mundane "dreadmill." Hop off, grab some water, do dynamic stretches, or even pick up a few weights for some strength training in between walking sets.
Plus, breaking up your walk with strength training further supports getting lean, as you can directly target belly fat with weighted core and abdominal work. Want some ideas? Check out: These Are the 5 Best Exercises for Toning Your Abs, Says Trainer.
Manipulate your terrain
Ditch the indoor gym and shake things up outside. "Try going out for a stroll around town or finding a nature trail near you—there will likely also be a variation in terrain if you take your walk outside, which means you'll naturally increase intensity too," Stonehouse explains.
With more incline and shifts in surface level as well as the type of ground you're walking (think: hills, sand, and gravel), you'll also burn more calories since there's added pressure and resistance. It also increases your heart rate and engages your leg and core muscles, Stonehouse says. "This will help you burn more calories and bring you closer to your weight loss and body toning goals," he says. For more walking tips, don't sleep on The Secret Fitness Trick for Walking Better Starting Now, Say Experts.